Page images

Struggles in the Field.

The 10th of May is the anniversary of the capture of Ticondiroga and Crown Point by Cols. Allen, Arnold and Warner in the year 1775. They were the three “Black Crows” of the Northern Border.

There remains yet a stone bastion and part of the walls of this ancient colonial fortress, green grown with the moss and lichens of an hundred and fifty years. There is yet the outlines of a redoubt, stretching across the field where the Highlanders of Abercrombie's British army pressed forward, where Montcalm’s intrepid French formed in line behind earthern defense, against which the British broke in vain. This fort which had been built by the Baron Dieskau in 1755, when Canada, was prosperous beneath the ever-glorious golden lilies of France, was lifted up by the waters of Lake Champlain. as the “gateway of Canada.” From it there issued the few but valorous troops of France against the English possessions further south, penetrating at one time to Albany, which they burned. Towards it had marched by mountains, plain and shore the 16,000 veteran and provincial troops of Abercrombie of 1757. The next year the fort was abandoned by the French, and after Canada had passed to England by the Treaty of 1763, the fort was enlarged and strengthened by Lord Amherst, who built a road from it to Crown Point. The British officials, with their usual carelessness, did not seem to think that this fort with its 200 canon and immense quantities of supplies in 1775 would be an easy prey to the American colonists, for it was garrisoned by but 42 men commanded by Capt. Delaplace and a lieutenant. Crown Point had but 12 men under a sergeant, and the fort by . George was occupied only by the caretaker and his wife!

In 1773 Gen. Haldimand, a Swiss mercenary in the pay of England, chief military authority in that part of the country, reported that there was no need of more than a nominal garrison. Because neither he thought, nor his fellows, that the American colonies would rebel against the Crown, however much they might “talk” rebellion.

Now there was one, John Brown, of Pittsfield, Mass., who had a secret mission to Montreal in March, 1775— where some English deserters were ready to join any attempt against the Crown that might happen. They were some of those who opened the gates of Montreal afterwards to Montgomery and furnished what is known as the 1st Canadian Regiment to Montgomery's invading army.

This Mr. Brown was astonished at the stupidity of the English in leaving such a feeble garrison over the “Gateway of Canada.” He wrote to Sam. Adams and Dr. Warren, who were on the “committee of correspondence” of the colony, and the capture of Tricondiroga was planned. On the 20th of April, Benedict Arnold, on the way to Cambridge with a company of volunteers, learned of the defenseless condition of the fort also, and of the great number of cannon and muskets and the abundance of warlike material there, and he started immediately with his company for the place.

At the same time for the capture of the same place, the hunters, squatters on disputed land and the houseraiders and barn-burners of the Green Mountains, under their notorious leader, “Col.” Ethen Allen, were forming their plans, over their whiskey pots and tobacco pipes, in Catamount Tavern. And while all this was going on about them, while companies were arming in every colony to fight against the British, the English officials, with a stupidity that is amazing, took no heed.

The troops of Arnold met those of Allen on the road, and there arose immediately a dispute between these worthies about the command. They swore at each other; they damned each other's eyes; they accused each other of scheming to be dictators if not kings, until Allen, whose followers were more numerous, turned to his second officer, Amos Callender, and roared: "What shall I do with the damned rascal ? Shall I put him under guard?” Callender replied, advising them to share the “honors” equally and both lead. And so peace was restored, although the two “Colonels” looked at each other out of the corners of their eyes and chewed their wrath with their tobacco.

When they arrived at the fort, which was just "at the dawn of day," when the mist was rising like a thin ghost from a mighty shroud, the sleepy sentry did not perceive them until they were within the gate. He could not give the alarm by firing a shot, for in "that piping time of peace” he had not thought it necessary to load his gun. He rushed into the fort, followed by Arnold and Allen and their 300 men, who were obliged even then to shout and cheer before they succeeded in awakening the sleeping English garrison, who appeared soon in shirttails and rubbed their eyes in amazement.

Allen enquired of them where was their leader and they replied “a-bed.” So Allen clambered up the stairway to the Captain's room, and, after a great pounding on the door, was successful in awakening him. When Capt. Delaplace came out, he was attired like his soldiers, in a shirt-tail, but he wore a greater mark of distinction in a night-cap, with a little silk tassel. He told Allen that he disapproved of such an early call and demanded to know his business. Allen replied that he had come to demand the surrender of the fort, at the same time he waved an old cutlass which he carried and made other demonstrations to prove that he was in earnest. Capt. Delaplace refused to look the matter seriously in the face, and believed that Allen was speaking in a Pickwickian sense (although then Mr. Dickens had not thought of Mr. Pickwick), or in modern phrase, he believed that Allen was “talking through his hat,” and he demanded by what authority. With another wave of his cutlass, and in a voice that had been tuned to a dominant key in the disputes of Catamount Tavern, Allen shouted, “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” Before this sacred alliance, to prove which Allen pointed to his 300 “Angels” below, Capt. Delaplace was forced to yield. At this moment, after all the glory had been gathered in, Col. Warner arrived with another troop of armed men, and the remaining places, Crown Point and the fort of Lake George, were taken,

Thus, without any other disturbance than the awakening of the little garrison and the spoiling of the commandant's appetite for breakfast, the greatest arsenal of arms and ammunition outside of the citadel of Quebec was transferred on that day from the authority of the King of England to that of “The Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress” as proclaimed by “Col.” Ethan Allen, and, although the “Great Jehovah” is not mentioned in the Constitution, yet a little later he was put on the coinage, “In God we trust." Ha ha - English with

In the meantime Col. George Washington had been appointed commander-in-chief of the united forces of all the colonies by the Continental Congress holding session in Philadelphia. Washington took command of the troops of the several colonies at Cambridge assembled, just before the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17th, 1776. He found that most of the men assembled had had previous military experience under the British colonial authority against the French and Indians and knew therefore how to fire a gun to advantage. Their courage and energy had been fortified by monarchical institutions, of whose king, whose former troops they were, they were assembled to fight. They had arms and munitions in abundance, and cannon from the several small forts which they had captured in the interior. But the ethical value of the men was of little account. The annals of that time offer a startling lesson to the present. “Desertions of 20 and 30 happened very frequently, many of whom fled to Maine and Vermont and were among the settlers of those states at that time.” “One thousand men, the date of whose enlistment was lost, perjured themselves in a body... in order to quit the ranks they had joined voluntarily.” “Many enlisted, deserted and reënlisted, under other recruiting officers, so as to get double bounty.” “Some prowled about the country to rob and kill the unoffending and defenseless." Gen. Knox wrote to Gerry that there were “men in commission who had been rewarded with rank without having any pretension to it except through cabal and intrigue.” “Some of these were clamorous for more pay, while they drew large sums of public money under pretext of paying their men, but applied them to the support of their own extravagance; some went home on furlough and never returned; some violated their paroles and were threatened by Washington with being exposed in every newspaper in the land . . . and so numerous were the convictions that their names were sent to Congress in lists.” “Many of the surgeons," said Washington, “are very great rascals, often countenancing the men to sham complaints to avoid doing duty and receiving bribes for such certificates, for procuring such discharges or furloughs.” In a letter to one of the governors, he asserted that the officers that that state sent him were “generally of the lowest class of the people and led their men to plunder the inhabitants and into every kind of mischief. In another letter to Gen. Lee, while he was at Cambridge, he describes the small sense of honor among the officers. To his brother, John Augustine Washington, he wrote that the officers nominated “were not fit to be bootblacks." This condition was not confined to the New England troops and their officers, but extended to other colonial officials. Washington in a letter to a member of Congress from Virginia, in 1778, declares "that 90 officers of the Virginia Line had conspired to resign and desert in a body."

Of the Generals, eighteen retired during the war; one for drunkenness, one to escape trial for drawing double pay, one deserted to the enemy, and the rest because of old age. In 1777, John Adams wrote: “I am weary to death of the wrangles between the military officers, high and low . . they quarrel like cats and dogs ... scrambling for higher rank and more pay like apes for nuts."

Such was their general condition when Washington was called to the command at Cambridge, and in addition, they were looking forward to obtaining the plunder of the estates of those who were true to the Crown. There were some, however, who were not influenced by: so base motives, but acted from resentment and hatred of the royalists, and others—a few extreme idealists—who dreamed of establishing an utopian republic with a commingling of the equality of the Athenian democracy with the majesty of the Roman dominion and with the doc

« PreviousContinue »